I’ve been fortunate to spend the last 22 years wedded to a high school special education teacher who has not only inspired countless students who’ve sat inside her classroom but myself as well, with the conviction that the purpose of learning is growth.
Along with that conviction, she encourages empathy and compassion among her students, to be respectful of each other’s differences, and humble in our relations. All with the understanding that advancing and expanding one’s ignorance is how meaningful transformations and solutions are created in our homes, communities, and the world.
In June of 2012, she was honored with her school district’s Teacher of The Year award, something she regularly and modestly overlooks. We worked together on the speech she delivered during their high school graduation ceremony, and I’d like to share its inspiring message with all of you, especially given how today’s educational system continues to be debated.
Philosopher and educator Mortimer Adler once said, “The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live.”
There is a common misconception that after completing our many years of education, there’s little reason left to explore the unknown – to grasp unique concepts or expand our minds based on ideas or beliefs we may not understand. Such a misconception breeds ignorance and bias in a world filled with an abundance of information still left to learn.
It’s time we all adopt the notion that learning does not cease once we leave the comfort of the classroom. Continual learning builds character and strength; it unites people from all walks of life to be respectful and tolerable of our differences; it ignites our dreams and supports a brighter future not only for ourselves but the society we’re all a part of.
Some of you will seek a higher education, while others will admirably enter the working world. Regardless of your path, never forget that “the purpose of learning is growth”. For as Benjamin Franklin once remarked, “Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.”
I can still see her standing in the center of the stage, in a black cap and gown, which I thought made her look ready for the courtroom, not the classroom, never wavering in her delivery even though I knew she was anxious in front of such a large crowd.
It’s been a little over a decade since my wife delivered that speech to parents, teachers, administrators, and of course, the graduating class of 2012. Yet, admittedly, I hadn’t revisited the content of that speech in several years, stumbling upon it infrequently in my files from time to time.
I was recently reminded of her speech as America’s educational system continues to be politicized and stricken by the one thing education has always been designed to eradicate – ignorance.
The purpose of learning IS growth. Yet over the last few years, Americans have repeatedly shown that they’re not interested in educating themselves beyond their narrow-minded beliefs and opinions.
Education means uncovering the facts through personal research and studies – to isolate falsehoods and propaganda to comprehend for oneself what is factual information. Frankly, it’s irresponsible for us to accept the narratives being conveyed by self-serving, agenda-setting politicians who will do and say anything to a population of people unwilling to learn.
In my wife’s speech, she says, “Continual learning builds character and strength; it unites people from all walks of life to be respectful and tolerable of our differences; it ignites our dreams and supports a brighter future not only for ourselves but the society we’re all a part of.”
But politicians (especially Republicans) don’t want such educated citizens in society. They would much rather have uneducated people who are more willing to believe and accept their misinformation. Many politicians still believe dated and antiquated views from centuries ago when an educated society was not preferred and too much education was considered a bad thing.
Why do so many Republican politicians fear education today? Because an educated population is a genuine threat to the hateful, thoughtless, divisive, and irrational governing agenda so many Republicans share.
They yearn to retreat to a society long ago whose leaders and influencers can only be described as white males who were racist, sexist, homophobic cowards who justified their behaviors by manipulating religious messages to enable themselves to maintain and propagate white supremacy. To me, it seems that the white racist, sexist, homophobic males of today are struggling with an identity crisis of their own as they question their sense of self and place in a world they no longer can dominate with archaic beliefs and opinions.
Comedian George Carlin said it best: “Governments don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. That is against their interests. They want obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept it.”
Republicans support education – as long as it’s their version of education. Through my research and studies, I’ve discovered a clear definition for such a narrow-minded interpretation. Psychology Today defines “bias” as “A tendency, inclination, or prejudice toward or against something or someone. Biases are often based on stereotypes, rather than actual knowledge of an individual or circumstance. Such cognitive shortcuts can result in prejudgments that lead to rash decisions or discriminatory practices.”
It would seem then that all the Republicans in America against an educated society filled with diversity and inclusion are basing their decisions on “stereotypes, rather than actual knowledge.” For a group of politicians so concerned about what America’s children are learning, their adherence and governance based on stereotypes such as race, sexual orientation, or class is concrete evidence of their ignorance. As Josephine Kim, a faculty member at Harvard Graduate School of Education, writes, “Stereotypes share an oppressive origin, and they are never the whole truth.”
For all the so-called “intelligent” Republicans in our political offices, if your brain can’t logically identify and comprehend the differences between fact and fiction, leading you towards biases, I think it’s time you went back to school and learned a few things.
I close this post with the same thought my wife shared many years ago for a much younger audience than the politicians I’m addressing in this post. “Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.” – Benjamin Franklin.